Members of Medinaâ€™s Ohio Army National Guard unit learned last year they would be deployed to Kuwait. Five citizen-soldiers shared their thoughts about serving their country and their days with family and friends before they said goodbye. This is the second installment in a four-part series. For a multimedia version of this story, visit wp2.medina-gazette.com/2008/01/09/photo-journal/brothersinarms/
A world map hangs on the wall at the bottom of the steps at the Demczyksâ€™ Medina home. Two clear, plastic pushpins are stuck through the laminated illustration of the world. One pin is in Texas. The otherâ€™s in Kuwait.
â€œThis pin covers almost the whole country,â€ Ohio Army National Guard Spc. Andy Demczyk, 21, said as he pushed one of the pins into Kuwait with his thumb the Sunday before Christmas.
â€œWell, people are going to want to know where you guys are,â€ his mother Barb said, looking over Andyâ€™s shoulder.
The Demczyks were getting ready for a party so family and friends could say goodbye to Andy and his brother, Spc. Joe Demczyk, 23, three weeks before their Medina-based Guard unit headed for Texas.
Barb and her husband, Rex, have an empty nest for now. Their oldest son, Travis, 26, moved to Idaho on Dec. 26, and Joe and Andy left with their Guard unit Sunday to spend three months in Texas for training before spending nine more in Kuwait on a security mission.
Joe said the unit will probably return in early January 2009.
Joe has a nest of his own with wife Jenny, 25, and daughter, Abby, who just turned 2 months old. Joe and Jenny grew up in the Medina area. Joe, a 2003 Medina High School graduate, met Jenny, a Cloverleaf graduate, working at Hawkins Market as a teenager. They now live in Mount Vernon. Jenny teaches, and Joeâ€™s a part-time student at Ohio State University.
War of words
Joe enlisted in the National Guard six months after Sept. 11, 2001, when he was a junior in high school.
â€œI didnâ€™t have the ambition to get college loans and have $20-, $30-, $40,000 to pay off afterwards,â€ Joe said the Saturday before Christmas, sitting on the oversized leather loveseat in his parentsâ€™ family room, intently pushing a red-velvet lining into a wood jewelry box he made Jenny for Christmas.
â€œAnd a little bit of patriotism, too,â€ he added, pushing the fabric into the boxâ€™s grooved bottom with a pencil.
Andy, sitting near Joe in a squishy, brown leather armchair, enlisted in June 2004 after graduating from Medina High.
â€œEveryone else says itâ€™s because Iâ€™m following in my brotherâ€™s footsteps,â€ Andy said, rolling his eyes.
Barb, sitting on the couch across from Joe and cradling Abby, immediately jumped in.
â€œItâ€™s not true,â€ she said.
â€œItâ€™s not true,â€ Andy echoed for emphasis.
â€œHe wanted to be in the Army ever since he was a little boy,â€ Barb said, smiling at Andy.
â€œNo, he didnâ€™t,â€ Joe said with a devilish grin. Andy shot him a look.
â€œYes, he did,â€ Barb said with an air of finality. Andy looked at Joe, and Joe rolled his eyes in response. The subject was dropped.
Later, Barb proved her point by pulling out a photo of a teenage Andy dressed in camouflage with some of his friends.
â€œSee?â€ she said, beaming at the picture.
The friendly fire is common when the family gathers, and Joe and Andy plan to keep it up after theyâ€™re deployed.
â€œEver since Iâ€™ve been in, weâ€™ve done the same job. Weâ€™re always together no matter what weâ€™re doing there,â€ Andy said of being in the same platoon as his brother. â€œPlus, we get to argue â€” it makes time go faster.â€
Travis also wanted to enlist, Barb said, but wasnâ€™t able to.
Travis walked in the living room, on his way to work on his truck outside, as Barb talked about her other sons being deployed.
â€œIt makes it easier knowing theyâ€™re going together, you know, that theyâ€™ll be able to see each other and have their friends in,â€ Barb said, still cuddling Abby. â€œWhen Joe was deployed to Italy by himself (in 2004), I think I was more worried then than I am now.â€
Joe closed the jewelry box.
â€œI didnâ€™t know anybody,â€ he said.
â€œIt was the first time you were deployed ever,â€ Barb said, the worry spreading across her face. â€œYou didnâ€™t know anybody. We have that under our belts now. I mean, you couldâ€™ve got shot.â€
Travis, standing across the room, smiled and took aim at Joe with an imaginary gun.
â€œIâ€™ll shoot at you,â€ he said with a laugh.
â€œGee, thanks,â€ Joe said, rolling his eyes.
Travis chuckled and walked out of the room. In a house whose tenants are always coming and going, the friendly war of words between the Demczyk brothers is a constant.
â€œThere have been rumors flying around for almost an entire year, so when they finally gave us word that, yes, we are actually going, it wasnâ€™t that big of a shock,â€ Joe said after finishing the jewelry box.
Jenny was now sitting next to him, sewing handles on a tote bag she made for her sister for Christmas. Part of the bag rested on Joeâ€™s lap.
â€œItâ€™s aggravating for an entire year to think are we going, are we not going? Just not knowing is a pain in the butt,â€ Joe said.
But once Joe found out, he had his work cut out for him at his and Jennyâ€™s Mount Vernon home.
â€œWe got the garage cleaned out this week, so I can get to the lawn mower,â€ Jenny said.
The couple also finished buying kitchen appliances.
â€œWe bought a new dishwasher. Now he has peace of mind that I can do dishes when heâ€™s gone,â€ Jenny joked.
â€œAnd you wonâ€™t have to rinse all the dishes before you put them in there,â€ Joe said. â€œAnd now all the appliances match. It really happened by chance.â€
â€œNo, I made sure,â€ Jenny said, shoving Joeâ€™s arm.
â€œDid you? I didnâ€™t notice,â€ Joe said with a shrug to push Jennyâ€™s buttons.
All joking aside, Jenny had to find somebody to help her with Joe out of the house.
â€œWith setting up snow removal, the people I work with are wonderful,â€ Jenny said, eyeing Abby from the loveseat as she sucked on a bottle in Barbâ€™s arms. â€œAnd theyâ€™re going to come and help me with any maintenance. If I have water squirting out anywhere, I have people down there that can help.â€
Jenny also found a baby sitter for Abby. She asked the woman, a studentâ€™s mother, a couple months before Abby was born on Nov. 7.
â€œIâ€™m a bit of a planner,â€ she said.
With their household in order, all Joe and Jenny had left to do was wait.
â€œI think the next few weeks will be the hardest because we just have to sit around and wait,â€ Jenny said, carefully pinning the handles on the unfinished tote bag in her lap. â€œAnd if he was already there, I wouldnâ€™t worry about it so much.â€
At the Guardâ€™s going-away ceremony Friday, Joe said he and Jennyâ€™s feelings havenâ€™t changed.
â€œYep, weâ€™re still just waiting,â€ he said with a sigh, leaning against a wall in the Medina High School Performing Arts Center lobby. â€œI think Jennyâ€™s trying to not think about it because when she thinks about it a lot, she just gets upset.â€
Andyâ€™s preparation for deployment has been a bit different from Joeâ€™s. Barb and Andy have worked to get his affairs in order, including taking a trip to the bank.
â€œIâ€™m going to be paying his bills,â€ Barb said, still holding Abby the Saturday before Christmas. â€œAnything that comes in, Iâ€™ll be taking care of for him â€” his car payment, any letters that come in, Iâ€™ll have to relay and handle for him.â€
Jenny let out a laugh and reminded Barb of when Joe, still unmarried, was deployed to Italy in 2004.
â€œWhen Joe got back from Italy, she had this whole Xerox box full of junk mail waiting for him,â€ Jenny said. â€œShe saves everything.â€
â€œI do keep everything,â€ she said. â€œYou never know.â€
Andy also had Lasik surgery before Christmas so he wouldnâ€™t have to wear glasses. He said the surgery, which he was awake for, was quick and surreal.
â€œI watched the doctor slice into my eye, but I couldnâ€™t feel it,â€ he said, opening a bottle of medicated eye drops in a chair next to Joe.
Later, the eye drops sparked another one of Joe and Andyâ€™s trademark brotherly battles.
â€œThatâ€™s the only side effect to having this done,â€ Andy said.
He carefully held the eye-drop bottle above his eyeball as liquid drops fell on its surface. He blinked back tears.
â€œYou have to put three sets of drops in four times a day,â€ he said. â€œNow everythingâ€™s all blurry because oneâ€™s a steroid to keep my eyes from swelling up, but itâ€™s cloudy.â€
Joe, who was looking on the whole time, pounced with a grin.
â€œYou get eye surgery but you canâ€™t even see,â€ Joe said.
Andy blinked again.
â€œI can see,â€ he said.
Joe pointed accusingly at his younger brother.
â€œYou said everythingâ€™s all blurry,â€ he said.
â€œFor about five minutes after I take this,â€ Andy said, rolling his eyes.
Joe got quiet.
â€œOh, I stand corrected,â€ Joe said.
Andy also left his job at a Brunswick Hills Township machine shop.
â€œIâ€™m not going back,â€ he said. â€œI want to go to school.â€
Joe, the student, didnâ€™t have a job to leave.
â€œHeâ€™s got a sugar mama,â€ Jenny said with a giggle.
That â€œsugar mamaâ€ plans to keep constant reminders of Joe around the house for baby Abby.
â€œWhat Iâ€™m trying to do is get pictures of Joe and put them everywhere so when we walk by them we can say, â€˜Thatâ€™s Dada,â€™ â€ Jenny said. â€œSo when she sees him in January, I hope she recognizes thatâ€™s her dada.â€
The couple also plans to talk as close to â€œin personâ€ as they can when Joeâ€™s away â€” with a webcam.
â€œItâ€™s mostly going to be me holding Abby in front of the webcam so she can see Joe,â€ Jenny said.
She also took as much footage and photos of Joe as she could before he headed off to Texas.
â€œOh, Iâ€™m just loving it,â€ Joe said sarcastically. Jenny set down her sewing and elbowed him.
Barb and Jenny also plan to visit Fort Hood, Texas, over Easter weekend. Abby will be about 5 months old when Joe sees her in person again this spring.
â€œThe time they have leave is Easter weekend in Texas,â€ Jenny said. â€œBarb and Abby and I are going to go there Easter weekend. Joe and I went to Borders last night and got a map so we can figure out where weâ€™re going to go when theyâ€™re on leave. The Hard Rock CafÃ© is a definite.â€
Joe and Andy got a literal taste of what their time in Kuwait could be like at a recent dinner at the local armory.
â€œUgh! That falafel and that crap that we made was horrible,â€ Joe said, scrunching his nose.
â€œItâ€™s just ground-up chickpeas,â€ Jenny said defensively.
â€œYeah, that tasted like crap,â€ Andy said, agreeing with his brother for once.
Andy elaborated on the fateful night at the armory he and his brother sampled what will be considered the â€œlocal fareâ€ when theyâ€™re staying on the Persian Gulf.
â€œThey wanted to give us a meal that was native to the area we were going, so they got a bunch of guys who never heard of this stuff trying to make this meal,â€ Andy said, still reclined in the big leather chair. â€œIt was ridiculous. Some of the guys who have been there said it was pretty good, that it was pretty close to how they make it. I said, â€˜Oh great.â€™ â€
In spite of their slight culinary dread, the boys are looking forward to visiting Kuwait City, the countryâ€™s capital, and nearby Dubai, one of the seven United Arab Emirates.
â€œDonâ€™t they have the biggest mall in the world there or something?â€ Andy asked.
Travis popped in the room to interject.
â€œThe biggest mall in the world,â€ he said with mocking awe in his voice.
â€œNo, I think itâ€™s the tallest building,â€ Joe shrugged.
They also might bring Barb home a Persian rug.
â€œSince weâ€™ll be on the Persian Gulf and all,â€ Andy joked.
When theyâ€™re home from Kuwait, both hope to go to college.
Two deployments and other Guard obligations have broken up Joeâ€™s education at Ohio State, where heâ€™s studying natural resources. His current deployment also extended his six-year enlistment with the Guard.
â€œHeâ€™s supposed to be out of the military in April,â€ Jenny said, sounding frustrated. â€œHis out date was April 17, so we were already mentally preparing for him to leave and get out of the military, and then he got a deployment.â€
Andy plans to enroll at the University of Akron to study criminal justice.
â€œTo follow in his momâ€™s footsteps,â€ Barb, a special officer with the Medina police, joked.
â€œOnce again, no,â€ Andy said.
Nobody in the Demczyk family discouraged the boys from enlisting with the National Guard, Rex said, standing near the world map the Sunday before Christmas.
His kitchen and living rooms were packed with guests, and the room where the map hung, situated between the kitchen and living room, was the only quiet space in the house it seemed.
â€œI support whatever they do,â€ he said, leaning on a desk by the map. â€œMy parents used to tell us what we should do, and it didnâ€™t work.â€
â€œSo I donâ€™t want to do that and have it not work,â€ Rex said. â€œThe service is great.â€
Barb, sitting in a small room off the kitchen before the party started, echoed Rexâ€™s sentiment.
â€œItâ€™s tough. Iâ€™m real proud of both of them,â€ she said, holding back tears. â€œI love them both, but I know what theyâ€™re doing is important, and I believe in what theyâ€™re doing and Iâ€™m going to support them 100 percent.â€
Jenny said sheâ€™s comforted knowing Joe and Andy will be together in Kuwait.
â€œThereâ€™s strength in numbers,â€ she said, a smile spreading across her face.
In the end, Barb said it was up to her sons, not the rest of the family, to map out their lives.
â€œPeople always ask me, â€˜How can you let them go?â€™ And I say itâ€™s not up to me to let them,â€ Barb said, cuddling Abby close to her on the couch. â€œBut like Joe told me once, he goes, â€˜I could get hit by a car and die tomorrow â€” when itâ€™s my time, itâ€™s my time.â€™ So that really helped me. Theyâ€™re going to go.â€